Concern is growing over the escalation of violence in Pakistan against religious minorities and the institutionalization of religious and sectarian intolerance. (Photo supplied)
Religious minorities are either invisible or portrayed negatively in Pakistan's textbooks, educational researchers revealed as they highlighted incorrect statements on blasphemy laws.
“Article 298 of the constitution was amended to the effect that anyone found guilty of blasphemy towards the Righteous Caliphs, the family of the Prophet [Muhammad] and the Companions of the Prophet could get up to three years of rigorous imprisonment or a fine or both,” states page 13 of the book of Pakistan Studies for Class 10 used in schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Tahira Abdullah, a women’s rights activist, disputes the claim.
“The passage contains incorrect statements, distortions and personal biases. The term 'blasphemy' is neither mentioned in the constitution nor in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The constitution does not even have an Article 298, so it could not have been amended,” she states.
“Blasphemy is dealt with in the PPC, inserted in sections 295, B & C; and 298 A, B & C, introduced arbitrarily and unconstitutionally. Parliament enacted Section 295-C in 1986. The offense carried life imprisonment or death and a fine.”
Nuclear physicist and activist Pervez Hoodbhoy raised concerns about academic freedom in the country.
“Forbidden topics include the nature of religious belief, any aspect of the blasphemy law, anything considered critical of certain notions of security and national interest,” he states.
“No constitutional clause guarantees academic freedom in Pakistani educational institutions. Instead, the stated purpose of education is centered on a certain set of values: religion, ritual, tradition and submission to authority. The study of religions other than Islam is a controversial matter in Pakistan.”
Of some 250 universities, only three offer an option to study other religions, he claims.
Last year the Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace published a study claiming that blasphemy allegations and violence against minorities and liberals in Pakistan were increasing in educational institutions.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in deeply conservative Pakistan where mere allegations have led to extrajudicial killings and mob violence. Pakistani Christians say accusations of blasphemy are often used to victimize them.
Similar findings were shared in the latest study by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) titled "Quality Education vs. Fanatic Literacy" launched on Nov. 16 in Lahore. The authors shared their analysis of the textbooks approved by federal and provincial governments for classes and subjects of grades one to 10.
They also slammed the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training for implementing a single national curriculum that involves reading the entire Quran with translation in the primary section, learning Islamic prayers and memorizing a number of hadith (words, actions and approval of the Prophet Muhammad) in Arabic with their translation.
It also stipulates that every school and college must employ a pair of certified hafiz (a person who has memorized the Quran) and qari (a Quran reciter) to teach these subjects. The new policy will ensure jobs for 6,000 madrasa graduates, analysts say.
Centre for Social Justice director Peter Jacob (right) speaks at the launch of the ‘Quality Education vs. Fanatic Literacy’ study in Lahore on Nov. 16. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry/UCA News)
The invisible minorities
The CSJ study also reviewed the 10 policies drafted since 1974 following the creation of Pakistan.
“The narration of historical events, especially relating to the days of the independence movement, is quite often laced with hatred against Hindus as a group. It is surprising that there seems to be no concern at all for how the millions of fellow Hindu citizens of Pakistan take this vilification in textbooks,” it states.
“None of the education policies have taken notice of and admitted violation of the fundamental rights of religious minorities in education, and no strong program of action has been suggested in any of them to stop it. They offer no clear instructions to the managers of education to be mindful of the existence of this problem and to remedy it.
“Our policies seem to view education as an investment in economic development rather than in human development. They produce young generations that can be easily swayed by intolerant and extremist ideologies and conspiracy theories.”
According to Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of CSJ, successive governments have constantly failed to address the concerns raised by educationists and religious minorities in entirety.
“This study finds links between the objectionable in the education system and the manifestations of the lack of social cohesion in the country. Apparently, rampant intolerance on the basis of religion and sect is the only imaginable outcome of education policies pursued in the past and present,” he told UCA News.
“The most glaring fact in many textbooks is the invisibility of non-Muslim Pakistani citizens. Exclusion of religious content from non-religious subjects and removal of hateful content is far from complete. The century-old misconception that missionary schools are hubs of conversion still exists.”
Bushra Anjum Butt, a member of the standing committee for higher education in Punjab, appreciated the research.
“Religion is easily politicized to blackmail politicians. Unfortunately, the unstable political environment has hindered equal education opportunities for all. Despite differences, we should recognize that a wide acceptance of diversity, either religious or ethnic, would be essential for strengthening the foundation of Pakistan as a democratic dispensation,” she said.